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New apple varieties based on more than just taste

New apple varieties seem to be coming out every year, with the hopes of tantalizing the taste buds of consumers while providing growers an opportunity to innovate and offer a broader range of products. Names like Envy, Cosmic Crisp and Rave are some of the new varieties that have recently arrived in stores or will make their appearance in coming years. But what is behind all these new varieties? What do growers do and hope to achieve with every new apple that is introduced? How do they balance introducing new varieties while maintaining consistent production on traditional favorites?

Years in the process
When a grower wants to introduce a new apple, they need to work literally from the ground up. They work with breeders, nurseries, professors, and tasters, to narrow down a shortlist and eventually select one or two varieties to move forward with. 

"We have our own nurseries that we work with," said Ray Norwood of Auvil Fruit Company in Washington. "You sign up the rights to certain varieties and then the testing phase begins which usually takes about 3 to 4 years. Some can be rejected almost immediately from the first taste, and gradually we end up with fewer and fewer. From there we will take some out to the field and plant them and take care of them according to our farming practices. Here we also take into consideration localized conditions as each can be site specific. This may start from half an acre, but can be quickly expanded once a commitment is made."

Workers tend to apple trees in one of Auvil Fruit Company's orchards

Window of supply is key
Auvil added that there are many variables when it comes to choosing a new apple variety. Timing is one of the biggest factors, as well as what the grower already has on offer. "Timing is very important as we harvest at different times and we want to ensure the new apple will fit in with our harvesting schedule," he said. "For example, we don't want to have too many ready to harvest at the same time, which puts a strain on operations and labor requirements. Size is another consideration. We need to aim for the sizing that fits in with our current production parameters, packaging, and is also dependent on customer feedback. On the tasting side, we also invite consumers to help us by performing blind tastings and getting their feedback." 

"We're into the 3rd year of a couple of varieties that we have been working on," Norwood continued. "We hope to introduce these in the next year or two. It's all about slowly whittling it down to a select few. We also don't neglect our traditional favorites like Granny Smith. Granny Smith occupies about half our volume, and we expect it to continue to do so in the foreseeable future."

Cosmic Crisp creating a stir in Washington
One of the new apple varieties coming onto the market in the next few years is the Cosmic Crisp. The apple is the result of two decades of research and trials and growers in Washington have been planting it in droves. From the marketing perspective, this presents its own challenges.

"Whenever a new apple comes onto the market, you are not necessarily creating new demand, as most new sales simply cannibalize sales of existing varieties," said Steve Lutz of CMI Orchards. "However, what we know is that when we trade consumers up to a higher value apple it drives category growth for the entire supply chain from grower to retailer. So far, based on samples from the field trials, we are truly impressed with this Cosmic Crisp. We leave it at room temperature, and even after several days, it maintains its texture and flavor components giving us great confidence in this apple."

Busy times at the sorting line in CMI's packhouse

Lutz said it's less about creating the demand, but more about paying attention to where that demand will move towards. "A key question will be which existing apple varieties will give way to Cosmic Crisp?" he said. "There has been talk that Cosmic Crisp will hit the Red Delicious variety in particular. But these apples will have very different price points that attract different customers. Reds appeal to a value shopper. Retail prices of Cosmic Crisp will be high, more similar to Honeycrisp. For at least the first few years Cosmic Crisp will be competing more directly with other high value branded apples for shelf space and retail attention."

For Cosmic Crisp, the trials of flavor and texture will continue beyond its official introduction into the market next year. Growers will continue to monitor its profile as the trees age on their respective ranches. "Even now we are seeing how a year makes a difference to a new apple variety," Lutz explained. "With Cosmic Crisp, the science is showing that fruit off 3 year old trees is superior to 2 year old trees. Each grower has unique horticultural practices and micro-climates that also come into play. Since many of the trees planted are now just a year or two old, or will be planted over the next few years, we won’t see significant volume for at least another 3 to 5 years." 

For more information:
Ray Norwood
Auvil Fruit Company
Tel: +1 (509) 784-1711

Steve Lutz
CMI Orchards 
Tel: +1 (509) 888-3401

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